It wouldn’t be shocking to see a Mercedes Benz convertible parked in the driveway of an Atherton, California home.
A short drive from Palo Alto and San Francisco, home to some of the most profitable tech companies on the planet, Atherton is home to tech moguls whose average family income is estimated at over $450,000 by the US Census. Desk. These well-paid residents would surely want a car that would allow them to enjoy that California sun they pay so much for.
But the Mercedes Benz convertible in this story wasn’t found in a driveway or on a California highway – it was found buried under five feet of dirt in the backyard of an Atherton mansion. It was reported stolen in 1992.
Landscapers were tending to the rear of the $15million mansion on Thursday when they made the curious discovery. Hidden not even the depth of a grave under the ground was a car. Strange as it may seem, they were even more perplexed to find that the car had been weighed down with bags of unused concrete mix.
Local police were alerted to the find and descended on the mansion later that day. Officers brought in cadaver sniffer dogs during the inspection, and the dogs’ reactions indicated the possibility of finding human remains.
When it comes to cadaver sniffer dogs, “human remains” takes on a broad definition. A positive frame can indicate anything from a complete corpse to the presence of bones, blood, vomit, or any combination of viscera and humor.
“They’re going through a landscaping project, so it’s entirely possible it was a worker who cut himself and spilled blood on the floor. We just don’t know what the dogs are reacting to until now. until we find out.” Atherton Police Cmdr Daniel Larsen told CBS News.
Adding to the mud, police officials noted that the dogs’ reaction was far from final. The dogs — whose noses detect scents between 10,000 and 100,000 times that of humans, according to the Florida State University Sensory Research Institute — barely recorded any possible remains.
A full search was necessary and planned for the following days. In the meantime, the police analyzed the information they could extract from the vehicle and discovered that it had been reported stolen in 1992 in Palo Alto. This led them to the conclusion that the car was probably buried in the 1990s.
With a stolen car buried in the mansion’s backyard, police turned their attention to the owners. They quickly hit a stalemate when police learned the owners only came into possession of the property after the car was allegedly buried.
They then examined the previous owner and builder of the home, which officials determined was Johnny Bocktune Lew. Lew, unfortunately for the police, was unavailable for questioning as he died in 2015 aged 77.
However, his daughter, Jacq Searle, was able to offer some glimpses of her father to the San Francisco Chronicle this might shed some light on the mystery of the buried car.
Ms Searle said her family lived at the property in the 1990s when the car was believed to have been buried. His father had a history of arrests for murder, attempted murder and insurance fraud dating back to at least 1966.
That year, Lew was convicted of the murder of a 21-year-old woman in Los Angeles County, for which he went to prison. He was released two years after the murder when the California Supreme Court overturned its decision, citing hearsay evidence leading to his conviction that should not have been included in the trial.
But that wasn’t the last time Lew would see the inside of a prison cell. A decade after the first murder, Lew was convicted of two counts of attempted murder, again in Los Angeles County, and served three years in prison, between 1977 and 1980, as a result.
In 1999, Lew allegedly hired people to take a 56-foot, $1.2 million yacht “west of the Golden Gate Bridge in international waters and put it in the bottom,” the the Chronicle reports, offering the men $30,000 in cash and $20,000 in gold watches as payment.
Lew, who grew up in Hong Kong and claimed he had ties to the Chinese Triad organized crime group, reportedly told potential accomplices that if they turned him in, he would have them killed.
Unfortunately for Mr. Lew, the men he thought he was hiring to sink the yacht were actually undercover California Department of Insurance agents, according to Recordnet.com. Officers launched the yacht as if they were going to sink it, but brought the vessel back under cover of night to place it in drydock for evidence.
Lew was in China when the sinking was supposed to happen, so when he returned he reportedly reported that the vessel had been stolen from American Yachts Limited, which insured the craft, in a bid to collect the loss.
“This is the largest (fraudulent insurance claim) that I know of that has been submitted,” Assistant District Attorney Franklin Stephenson said at the time, according to Recordnet.com.
He was arrested for the attempted crime, but it is unknown if he was ever prosecuted.
San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe told the the Chronicle that Lew had never been prosecuted for a crime in the county and said the San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office handled the insurance fraud case.
The Independent contacted the San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office for comment.
With an insurance fraud case on the books, a murder, and two attempted murders, that brings us back to the car. Did – and if so why would – Lew bury a car?
Mrs Searle could not answer this question, but told the the Chronicle that Lew’s involvement “wouldn’t surprise me, just because of how sketchy my father was”.
On Monday, two days after the car was successfully exhumed, police took stock of the vehicle. No human remains were found. Police said the current occupants were not considered connected to the car beyond sharing a yard with the vehicle.
But was it related to Lew? Investigators aren’t saying that, at least not yet.
“We heard that name come up, but we haven’t confirmed through our sources that he actually owns that vehicle,” Mr. Larsen said, according to the Press Democrat.
For now, the mystery continues.